healing waters – part 1

July 19, early evening

Big Porcupine Lake, Algonquin PP 

We have finally made it back into the park! After what feels like such a very long time since we have been able to journey together without pain, of either the physical or emotional kind, we are here. Don is currently sleeping next to the water (I hope he doesn’t get too much sun out there, but he is sleeping so deeply, exhausted from our day of paddling and portaging, that I don’t wish to awaken him. That second time across the Ragged-to -Porcupine portage, colloquially referred to as the ‘devil’s staircase’ whooped him – his words, not mine- though it was the strength in his legs and his aerobic conditioning that got the better of him more so than his ankles. Strength and fitness can be improved upon, of course, if he should decide that this is something that is important to him. But, for now, we are here!)

It has been threatening rain all day, spritzing on us occasionally, but each time the clouds seem to pass over just as we are deciding to pull our raingear back out of our packs. As it’s turned out, the weather has been quite perfect, as clouds and breezes have tempered the heat and humidity while also keeping the insects at bay. (Last evening, at Erin’s, where we’d stopped to visit and enjoy dinner with her family, the mosquitos were wicked, though admittedly it was much later in the evening, nearer to dusk, when we were outside there).  A few biting flies lunched on my exposed calves and ankles as we crossed Ragged Lake this morning, but since then we have been most fortunate as far as being meals for insects is concerned. We are now perched upon a west facing site with a long view into an inviting notch, where I expect the sunset could potentially delight us this evening — if we can stay awake that late!

I continue to hold Don in compassion and lovingkindness, while not putting myself and my needs as subservient or secondary- holding myself in lovingkindness too. Staying out of judgment of both of us! We were noting the level of relaxation we have had with each other so far – up until that second time across the Devil’s staircase, when Don likely pushed himself a bit too much. It is still hard for him, even with me, to let himself do ‘less than’ (I had offered to make the extra trip across, which would’ve been no problem for me), but we both noticed how much less pressure we put on ourselves when it is just the two of us here. I suppose that is fairly typical, but also something to be aware of, without judgment or over-identification, so that these behaviors don’t become habits, unconsciously driving us.

Let go. Let go. Let go. And be love. Love requires no performance, no measuring up. I wish to soften on this trip, soften our relationship, soften my need to push, soften my heart — and harden my muscles!!!

We were on the water this morning by 8:15, having left the motel near the park’s boundary at 6:40 and hitting some road construction on the ‘highway’ through the park to the Smoke Lake access point. At that early hour of the morning, the access was delightful.  We were alone on the docks, and encountered only 2 slowly trolling motor boats on our passage south through cottage-lined Smoke lake, which took us an hour to paddle. The first portage, around the dam at the south end of Smoke lake, went quite smoothly. Though a bit of an uphill climb, it took only 10 minutes to walk the 250 meters on fresh legs. Three times across and back for a second load and we were on Ragged Lake by 10 am.

On Ragged, we paddled past the site we’d stayed on last fall with our friends and were soon enough in the deadhead graveyard at the south end of the lake, meandering our way toward the grassy/mucky entrance to ‘the staircase’. I don’t know what time we arrived at the portage, but the walk took me 15 minutes one way, so I’d guess it was shortly after 11, since we were finished with it and eating our lunch on the banks of Big Porcupine shortly after noon.

After filling bellies and water bottles, we made the short paddle to this campsite, one of the two we had hoped to find empty. It is a delightful site, with a spacious and breezy rock outcropping and well protected tent site. We set up a tarp, expecting rain as we did, and seeing as we will be staying here for 2 nights.

I suspect this may be a popular site, within a half day’s paddle from the put-in as it is, though the lakes we passed through to get here have felt empty, especially for mid summer. We spotted only 2 other campsites that were occupied, one on Ragged Lake, and one on this lake, though we did pass a few parties departing, perhaps from long weekend trips. One young couple portaged the ‘staircase’ along with us but they kept moving, on their way to Harness for the night. Since we have landed here, no parties at all have paddled past. There are no human sounds here at all.

This early evening, with the sky clearing overhead, I bathe myself in the silence.

Don has awakened and is casting a line. I believe I will being dinner prep.

July 20. Morning, Big Porcupine

Hot Coffee!!!

The birds are chattering, fluttering, squawking all about me in the brush. Perhaps I have disturbed their morning routine with my arrival on this bouldered perch. As I walked the path to the water’s edge, I also spooked a small family of black ducks, about a half a dozen or so, the same one’s that flapped low across these waters, back and forth several times, last evening as we sat watching the sun set.

Now the light hits the trees in the far bog, though the ridge closer is still in shadow. A moment passes as I pen that sentence and the scene has shifted, negating itself entirely, the close ridge in light while the far notch is in shadow, as the morning clouds roll overhead. Two loons appear next to the miniature island off shore, hooting softly – now yodeling! – as another flies overhead with her tremolo alert. Yesterday, on Ragged Lake, we spotted a bald eagle, likely a predator for these and their young, whom I so hope to spot on this summertime trip.

Oh, the hot coffee!! My own morning routine alleviated by the convenience of a thermos. I can make coffee the night before, during evening camp chores, and so free myself to relax and BE with the dawn without the need to fuss over a cook fire and the boiling of water. At least in mid July, the coffee remains HOT by morning.

Small pleasures.

Don remained tired, though not in pain so far as I could tell, throughout the evening. I took care of the fire building last evening. I needed but a few sticks to bring our simple soup to a boil. Camping in summer can be easier that way without the need for a fire for warmth. Of course, there are other challenges, like mosquitos and deer flies. Each season has its pleasures and its ‘annoyances’.

Last evening, we spent a bit of time fooling with the mosquito net shelter, which we didn’t end up using after all. Perhaps it is a better solution for small groups than for two?, as we’d found it to be quite useful last summer when we tripped with our sons. Don and I prefer being close to the water at dusk, where we can watch the evening unfold with the setting of the sun and the turning on of the stars. It was 10 o’clock when we climbed into the tent last night, though, and the first of the stars had just barely appeared. Star gazing had to be delayed for night-time nature calls.

I dreamt last evening that one of my sons was so upset with me that he legally changed his name (to officially proclaim the disconnection he feels from me?) In another snippet of a dream, I was babysitting a grandson who was frustrating me so with his behavior. I imagine these dreams reflect the inner, unexpressed turmoil and guilt I feel over not attending to my family/loving well enough. It remains difficult for me to let go of that judgment and that fear. For this morning, I will simply note that and listen for what the invitation is in it for me.

Time to be here now. In love and compassion. With whole-hearted attention. To NOT take responsibility FOR the other, but to BE WITH the other in love.  Gazing upon beauty, I can feel everything without judgment (self) or blame, this joy AND this sorrow. I dismiss nothing as trivial, while also holding the truth that life is an enormous gift, an immense fullness, a fullness that I need not carry as weight but as blessing. I need not be all things to all people. I need simply be who I am and let life unfold as it will. If I remain in love, all will be well, no matter.

The vastness of this place helps me to put life into perspective – the big AND the small – and to find my small place somehow within it.


This morning, we paddled down Mud Creek through a lotus and lily crowded channel as it meandered through an alpine bog – one of my favorite kinds of paddling here in Algonquin. The bog was in full array, with cotton grass and pitcher plant and some birght yellow beauties that i know not.  There were pinks and yellows, reds and whites, and i delighted in them all.

We paddled until we reached a small beaver dam. From there, it appeared that the creek would peter out long before we reached either of the small lakes we could see on the map, as the channel was barely a canoe’s width already and the thin blue line on the map grew much thinner before we would have reached them. So, we decided to turn back rather than lift over the dam, as we had hoped to paddle to the other end of Big Porcupine lake this afternoon to walk the portage to Little Coon Lake and wanted to save time for that.

As it turned out, that portage trail into Little Coon was a swamp at its beginning, impossible to access without going in over your ankles and calves in moose muck soup. By then, neither of us was up for plowing through – it was already 2 in the afternoon- so we found an island campsite in that southern bay, where we stopped for a late lunch of chicken and apple slaw wraps before returning to camp.

All in all, it was a pleasant day, just enough exploring for me, not too physically exertive for Don. Oh, I forgot to mention the campsite across the bay from our campsite here on Big Porcupine. We visited it this morning before our paddle into Mud Creek. Replete with secluded nooks for sitting next to the water, rocky outcrops, great fishing spots (according to Don), a gorgeous campfire ring and pine needle carpeted expansive tent sites, it sits on a point with a cove around its back side. It’s only drawback was the box, which sat low on that back side and was quite mosquito infested this time of the year (of course, I had to ‘check that out’) The site is basically a long jutting granite ledge with a long view to the east for sunrise views (less so to the west but possibly a glimpse would be offered). That large fire ring sits high on the ledge and comes complete with a stone ‘table’. It could easily be a destination site for a family or other large group. Should Don and I come this way again, it is likely we’d try for that site, with its proximity to the marsh for wildlife viewing and nighttime paddling,  and its interesting shoreline of tiny inlets lined up like miniature fjords for exploring.

Friday, July 21, Phipps Lake, 3pm

I’ve found a spot of shade beneath an obliging pine, her roots holding tight to this granite outcrop so resiliently. She teaches me, perhaps , to draw nourishment from even the hard places in my own life. We have reached the campsite we stopped on for lunch one afternoon last autumn during our trip here with D&M, deciding then and there that this was a destination worth returning to. Private and secluded, we are alone on this lake. The water wraps around our site in a great arch, forming a large secluded bay behind us. It is quite breezy here this afternoon, as it was during the overnight on Big Porcupine last night, though the morning paddle from there to here (from 9 to noon) was calm and sunny, a real surprise and delight after the heavy gray cloud cover of day’s dawning. Again, the breeze helps tremendously with the heat and the insects, making the water sparkle and carrying the scent of pine and heath to my inhalations. The rustle of the tree tops, stirred to life by the wind. completes this sensory elixir.

Don is sleeping next to me. I have brought a pack to prop beneath his knees as they were bobbing haphazardly to and fro, and that didn’t appear to be very restful to me. He is fairly ‘spent’, he says, though today was an easy one, the portages short (200 and 175) and flat and the paddling easy. I expect the physical effort is simply much more than he has become (de)conditioned and accustomed to.

I am grateful for his companionship.

We saw a momma with her baby loon just after climbing into our canoes at the end of  portage from Porcupine into Bonnechere Lake, and here on our little slice of heaven, a pair of adults have been fishing the shoreline. I like the way they watch out for one another, often swimming, diving, and emerging side by side, but also at times going their own way, to come together again when one or the other calls, perhaps becoming aware that it has been some time since they last connected. They seem quite attentive and nurturing of one another that way.

I gathered a few blueberries from the shoreline, popping them into my mouth as I did (I have none to show for it, though tomorrow perhaps I will take a bowl to gather enough to add to the morning’s oatmeal or pancakes). They tasted of pine and heath too.

I wonder if we may have a bear or two come around, foraging. I did take note of two sets of moose tracks- a large and a small – in the muck, and this area is also the general vicinity from which we heard the wolf serenade that ‘mist’ical morning last autumn with D&M. Any or all of these would be terribly delightful to see, though the views alone are deeply satisfying enough.

I had thought to go swimming, but the deerflies dissuaded me when I was nearer the water. I am content enough to remain smelly for now.

Saturday morning, July 22, Phipps Lake

Quiet morning. Stillness. A loon calls. A dragonfly buzzes, snatching at a mosquito drawn to my body’s warmth. The lake reflects the silhouette of a loon soaring down into her watering landing, as my ears pick up the vibration created by the shape of her wings as she slows her descent and resists falling. A low convection fog hovers and swirls here and there, almost dissipated now by the warmth of the rising sun. It is 7:30 am. I have been up for some time. When Don rolled over to ask the time as I climbed out of the tent, it was 6:30 but I had by then already spent considerable time changing my clothes, applying insect repellent, coming my hair, etc. He has returned to sleep, still tired from these days of travel. He shall have to build up his stamina again, over time, I trust. I expect he will sleep 12 hours this night by the time he arises. We went to bed last evening at 9:30.

It is so very lovely here. I have found a rock from which I have a long view of the lake. Tomorrow, perhaps, if I can brave the insects, I shall rise to be with the rising of the sun, which I could watch from this vantage. I wish I could capture this image, but my camera (new to me on this trip) has taken its last photograph with the battery life that it has. (note – I shall have to purchase several backups) That’s okay, though. It will force me to ‘be’ here in a different way, attending with perhaps more stillness than I often can find.

Last evening, the insects defeated my desire to be out with the stars, once again. I suspect the culprits may have been no seeums or midges. My hands were swollen by the bites- at least 8 on my left hand- and burning. I simply needed reprieve. I wonder what human beings must have endured before mosquito netting. Perhaps they knew what we have forgotten.

This morning the insects are behind me, back in the bush, where I can hear their persistent buzzing. Here, at the water’s edge, I am at peace, unbothered, and seemingly unnoticed, by them. Reprieves are helpful for one’s sanity. Beauty helps too.

The pair of loons swim in tandem quietly now, from around the bend where the flyer landed a few moments ago. Down the length of the lake, smoothly, silently, they pass, as if they are basking in the morning. All the while I have been writing, a thrush has been singing. From further away, I hear the faint call of the white-throated sparrow (one of those fellows visited our fire circle yesterday morning, picking at the dirt, perhaps accustomed to finding morsels nearby, coming quite close as we ate our breakfast there)

Ah, this morning has been so healing. I think of person for whom there is no reprieve from the things that bite at them, from the things that pain them, for whom there is no beauty to offer such balm. I am filled with compassion for them this morning. How do they cope?

I am grateful for this reminder. Oh, what a beautiful morning.



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